(Photo via Washington Capitals)
Regardless of the outcome of tonight’s game it’s already a success for both team’s players, staff and coaches. That’s because this time last year there was no hockey. None. No preseason. No training camp. No hockey. The NHL lockout loomed over everyone involved in the sport. This year is much different. We had a full training camp, one that saw many rookies, especially on the Capitals, making major league rosters. We had a full preseason complete with more than a fair-share of fisticuffs as players literally fought for places on their respective club’s lineups. And now we have the real thing: a full, 82 game, NHL hockey season.
This game started a little differently than most opening games will this week. The Caps were in Chicago to take on the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks. As this was the first game of their season it began with the hoisting of the banner honoring their 6-game series win over the Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins a few short months ago. There was pomp, there was ceremony, and there was a game to play.
This was game felt more like a heavyweight boxing match more than it did the first game of the hockey season, with the two teams exchanging goals back and forth. The Blackhawks were the first to get on the board when early in the first Brandon Bollig put a wrist shot over Braden Holtby’s catching glove. Just over six minutes Later, new Washington Capital Mikhail Grobovski slid a puck through the crease to the waiting stick of Capital’s Captain, and last year’s NHL scoring leader, Alex Ovechkin who wasted no time burying it behind Cory Crawford.
That would not be the end of the Grabovski show however. The young German center, acquired this past summer from the Toronto Maple Leafs, would quickly show why he wasn’t only a decent replacement for departing second-line center Mike Ribiero, but that he was actually an upgrade from what we had last season. Tonight would be Grabo’s first career hat-trick as he scored on a breakaway and was credited with two tip-in goals off of booming slapshots from the point, teed up by none other than Mike “Game Over” Green.
Unfortunately the back end of the Caps game wasn’t nearly as well put together as the forwards were. Caps General Manager George McPhee took a chance this season on Rookie Defenseman Connor Carrick, fresh out of the OHL in Canada with no minor league experience. He proved himself ready for the big club this fall during the Caps training camp and preseason, but first game nerves seemed to get the better of him tonight in his hometown pro debut. He was beat on two critical rushes, both leading to Chicago goals.
The biggest bright spot of the game however was the “beast in the cage” or so his freshly painted mask would lead you to believe. Braden “Holtbeast” Holtby proved once again why he earned the starter spot in front of fellow netminder Michal Neuvirth. He seemed in mid-season form playing much better than the final score would lead you to believe. It was, however, a Holtby mistake that eventually put the game out of reach for the Capitals. Late in the third period Johnny Oduya took a simple snap-shot from the top of the left face-off circle that looked to be going wide. Braden reached out his glove hand to snag it, and somehow it got caught in the new equipment’s webbing. As he juggled to close the mitt on the puck it squirted out behind him and the momentum carried it into the net.
Marion Hossa would later get credited with an empty net goal to bring the final score to 6-4 but he never actually scored the goal. As he was breaking on the empty net to take the shot he was hauled down from behind by two Capitals. The rules state that when the net is empty, if a penalty occurs that would have resulted in a penalty shot for the shooter, instead of having the affected player take the penalty shot on the gaping net they would simply award the goal to the team and faceoff of at center.
Regardless of the outcome, hockey is back. The Capitals will be home in just two days matching up against the Calgary Flames.